Well, I am back to writing after a while. and I’d like to start with a rant. I am a bit concerned and feel sad for the people that get sucked into all the "adventure" horse shit. To think about it, The adventures people could have if they just rode out there enjoyed themselves instead of buying all the crap from the big brands to keep up with the social media and Jones next door. I have a very strong opinion that these folks have tarnished a noble thing for the rest of us. ie. going for a ride on a bike. Now, these unscrupulous companies slam you with happy selfies from sponsored riders driving home to the punter. They must have the latest crash protection, wet weather gear, gps or the latest luggage set or even a bike!  What happened to just going for a ride guys ? I realised that I got sucked in, I wish I’d spent more money on gas than the "right” gear. 

It brings up a huge question. What is an adventure ? is going out there on a guided tour or a rented motorcycle an adventure? Are guided tours not “real” adventures? 

Well, it can be both. Because Adventure isn't a prescription.


I very strongly believe that Adventure is in the individual. It is as close to putting on your boots in the morning and heading out the door. In our case, motorcycles. And it's not about the prize, the trophy, the goal, the gold. Robert service in his poem "the spell of the yukon" put it perfectly: "Yet it ins't the gold that I'm wanting so much as just finding the gold". That's adventure. The finding of it.



So, Leaving from where we left last time, I have quite the story to tell. As funny as it may sound, the story is about the 20 year old motorcycle which me and my wife rode all the way from the eastern himalayas in bhutan to the fringes of Jammu and kashmir traversing some gigantic peaks in Nepal. Its a story of no questioning how the universe works in uncanny ways. It's a story of friends who met through OLX. 






the Motorcycle is a 1996 ‘Made in spain’ Transalp 600 (XL600v). I named the Transalp “Morgan Freeman”. Because, it was Old, Red and full of redemption. The name just stuck. We carried parts to makre sure Morgan gets some TLC. 

We stopped being silly, and got serious riding.And riding is what we did. From the Teesta, to the Sevoke to Torsa to Paro and ended up in Mangde where Phobjika valley lies. 



A landscape right out of fairy tale. Where 6 foot tall black necked cranes migrate in winters, it was utterly surreal.  We took the lesser travelled border gate into Nepal in Pashupathi Nagar, which is a diversion from Ghum, the last railway station where the Infamous Toy train journey ends. The terrain is quite magical changing from Alpine to Alpine shrubs. 
















Nepal - Kathmandu, the capitol was under siege, with no Petrol anywhere in sight for the first 2 days. After some local help, managed to fill Morgan copious amounts of petrol to take me to Pokhara. We rode to the forbidden kingdom of “Mustang” surrounded by 8000 meter peaks. The Annapurna conservation area is really something in the monsoon’s on a big motorcycle. We then tracked our way down to the beauty of the terai region and made it in time to the “Teej” festival. 














We rode from the ganjes, its tributaries and ended up at the chenab which met the sutlej in Spiti valley. 






 









Reflecting on the most incredible 2 months in the mountains, we crossed cold deserts, snow-capped peaks, forests and quaint villages. Safely traveled through them, and sometimes we were told not to go to places, visited others I'd not previously heard of. We were ecstatic, happy, sad, drunk, baked, drunk and baked, exhausted, moved, overwhelmed and mostly, fascinated. We made new friends for life, we fought, and sometimes were victims of hospitality and were given most from those with least to give.  We leaned that a gesture is worth more than a thousand words, because, sometimes poor isn't necessarily unhappy. We learned to live with less and we shipped most of the things back midway. We become better travelers. I now trust people and our instinct. We saved cash, blew the budget, ran out of money, made false transactions and threw some illegal things at problems. We became compassionate human beings, mechanics, and with a technical ability only slightly better than a blind gibbon wearing boxing gloves, we became experts in many fields. We administered first aid by the road side and broke the sub-frame. We ate extraordinary food, Met western people who were learning to "cook mo-mo’s”. We ate with dirty hands, from plates, with clean hands, from leaves, plastic bowls and occasionally the huge pot. We slept in tents, in hotels, hostels, homestays, in cold deserts, on mountain tops, and in the wilderness. We saw stars, almost every day, and occasionally the milkyway. We had the most incredible good fortune tempered with bad some luck. We visited, museums, temples, churches, monasteries, and monasteries and monasteries ...The Himalayas is full of Monasteries. We communicated in sign language, learned a few words of tsonga, nepali, pahadi, and hindi. 
















In Hindsight, now that we are back home, I sometimes wonder. Did it ever go away? Is the chronic travel addiction that strong ? is it because there always a chance of not finding what is over the hill that you haven't seen before? a new feeling or experience that hasn't been absorbed, yet? 


My inference is a fair warning. Warning: Motorcycle travel is highly addictive and there is NO known cure. 









Yep. It's been a year since I wrote anything here. But, nevertheless, Living up to the blog's name, "The Motorcycle Odyssey", My creepy obsession with motorcycles has reached new levels. As I write this, things have changed.

It's been 2 full years and some months now since I quit my full-time job. It's been craggy, dented, indented and later to laugh at, a knobby journey. I am married to my beautiful wife who's been there all along. The mongrel named "Seabiscuit" has been ever-faithful, and the new addition to the stable, The B&W Pig, has been on her shakedown and is an all-new project now after some "shake-down-findings".

Santhosh and I on the GRIT - Great Indian Trail which will always be a WIP for me, forever !

Us at 10 Degrees OFF, Bandhipur


Rebuilding the XR after the Chennai floods was a great journey by itself. With little or no help, It took me many working days, and some 200 Hrs to put it all back together.  I got married later that summer we rode out to the GRIT trail again, 2up on the Seabiscuit.

GRIT, Sathyamangalam

So, Back to Mountains. The mountains I love the most - The Himalayas. High peaks, the smell of the air, The Playground, A place like nowhere else, and A place where I have managed to go ever since my first affair with it. My affair started in 2013. After returning back to it in 2014, the feeling was stronger than ever. Accompanied by friends was no longer a necessity, and nor was going there in "Riding season". In continuation to where I left off, I DID NOT make it to Kaza in March 2015. I was not mentally prepared, and the conditions were unforgiving. After staying in Tabo for 2 days, I had to track my way back. A Treacherous ride back. Kibber was a vanishing dream and snow leopard's even fainter. 

Nako

Now reliving 2015, A year after I quit my full time (life less) job at the building of high paying jobs, right next to pie in the sky building. It was a hard choice to make and meant lesser "eating out" and generally restricting things which I used to take for granted.Thinking about it, Quiting the job, it had to be done sooner or later. 

I am not sure if anyone even reads this blog. I know very few do, but unlike other people writing blogs, I am writing only so that, I can come back to re-live the moment. That's all.

These moments are meant be re-lived, and stored forever. Like a friend once said "When you tell a story, make sure it's a good one"

Now its 2016 & Always remember that adventure is greater than any vacation you can ever take. My honeymoon project as the wife knows it was to keep things simple. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to take her on that long travel and maybe even go overland ! Obviously, there is a motorcycle involved, and even more obviously it had to be the Himalayas. But this time, A little bit different. 

So, How different is different ? "Go rescue a 20-year Honda parked somewhere in the Himalayas 1000’s of miles away from home" different. What's more epic than riding an unknown bike into the world's largest off-road playground 2up with luggage from the Teesta to the Zanskar ? Challenge accepted.

The bike was ridden to India by a Swede from, guess what, Sweden in 2013 (http://himalayanbiketours.se/en/?p=225) by a guy named STIG .. Yep, you read that right. I am buying STIG's bike. The bike has almost 70k on the clock and I only have photos. But, I bought it. Coz it has to be rescued, coz Transalp's are a cult bike. Having said that, I am betting it will break down, and the real adventure will begin after we overcome the hardest part of the journey, Leaving. So, we leave August 1st to Kalimpong ! As the bike's already there, waiting ever patiently. I'll be carrying service spares, new plugs, Oil & Air filters, bearing if anything breaks mid way, etc. Lastly, I don't think you need a bloody spanking new motorcycle to go on a trip. Seabiscuit is a living proof of it and makes me fall in love eveytime we are together in faraway places. Sometimes, you just have to take that blind leap of faith. Sometimes, you just have to stop worrying and start riding. 


The actual bike

67,265 kms to be precise

Comes as is with the Monokey luggage system panniers and top box. Yep, the tires are worn.

I have a facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/themotorcycleodyssey/ where i'll posting updates and will be active on the group MTM-GRID 

"There is definitely a charm to planting roots, but I fear my own complacency. You can’t be lazy when you have an expiration date"

So, Go out there, Go live your dreams.. Become a stranger in strange lands.. Go find your wild places,  do something hard..do something that you might fail doing…& make adventure a part of your life

Sincerely,
The Motorcycle Odyssey Guy 
Over & Out !


So apart from the fact that I am a sucker for Mountains and Motorcycles, the real reason behind my visit to Spiti in March was to get to Kibber, A quaint village high up in the mountains. The plan was to carry adequate equipment for scanning the descends from the high peaks & ridges into the valleys to hunt for Blue Sheep and Ibex which in-turn are hunted by the elusive snow leopard. 



Bariushaa Munkhtsog or Dr. Bariushaa Munkhtsog or simply known as the snow leopard man, has been working with snow leopards since 1993 and was active in the reintroduction of "Przewalski's horse" at Hustain Nuruu National Park, Mongolia. Mongolia has the 2nd largest snow leopard population in the globe. He currently serves as senior wildlife biologist at Institute of Biology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Board director of Irbis (snow leopard in Mongolian) Mongolian Center, Board director of Gobi bear conservation NGO, and is co-founder of the Pallas' Cat Conservation Project in Mongolia. Dr. Munkhtsog also teaches biology and ecology at colleges and has supervised Bachelor's, Master's and PhD’s students on snow leopard, Pallas' cat, wild cat, and wild camel ecology and is a member of IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group and Snow Leopard Network.

You can read more about the Bariushaa's work here

This is a digital painting
                                       
So, simply based on some of the credentials listed, and after much time reading about conservation efforts and the community, I was quickly mislead to believe many things. Firstly, Someone told me about this group called “Spiti United” (more about them here) who are associated with “Red Fox Homestay”. These folks provide accommodation in kibber. which was great. However they are anything but great, and it lead to a disappointing conclusion after having series of conversations.

Dont be fooled by visiting the website which claims to be a lot. After much research I figured that who they mention as “TEAM” and have photos of local people with designations like “Expedition Warrior” really mean NOTHING. 

This is a Digital Painting too !

More disappointments - Continued:

Me:  Hi, I am a sealander (from the east coast of southern tip in the indian peninsula, chennai) and will be visiting Spiti and Sangla starting 18th March on motorcycles with fraternity (4 people). I hope to reach Kaza and would love to meet you folks and stay with you (the red fox? in kibber ?) How do I touchhbase with you ppl ? 

NO REPLY - I was thinking, they are probably stuck in desolate mountains with no internet connection etc & after all, it was peak winter in the beginning of Febuary. So, I wrote to them again, just in case I didn’t get their attention the first time.

Me: Hello there, I am visiting Kaza and Kibber in the third week of march and would like to stay with the red fox in kibber. Is there a number to call ?”

This time I got a reply,

SU: Please provide details of your plan and dates. We shall then work on a budget for you, also please mention about the purpose of your visit
thanks you,
spiti united”

Me: Thanks for the prompt reply. Iam visting Kaza with my partner, and we are travelling to Spiti from Delhi by motorcycle. I am an avid climber and ride motorcycles for fun and have visited the valley in summer. I always wanted to visit the valley in winter. We leave delhi on 19th march and intend to reach Kaza by 22/23rd latest. We will want to spend 3-4 days in kibber and go on some simple expeditions to bet on our luck to spot some wild life. No return tickets booked at the moment and everything is a little flexible. Keep me posted on the proceedings and the availability of lodging in kibber. cheers

 **NO REPLY AGAIN**
                                         

Me: Hello there ! Hope you guys are doing well. Any update for me ? 

SU: Hey!!
Are you interested in snow leopards or only Want to use the hotel services?! There is no module for simple tracking.Your expedition module will cost you 1.5 Lakh for two people - 5 nights!!
Cheers! Chinmay

Me: Just curious to know what you charge at the red fox for accommodation. I will certainly pay you guys a visit and say a big Hi nevertheless , See you soon in kibber.

SU: We don't use our base for walk in customers in winter! We organise expeditions with months of preparations!! I am not sure if the team wi be together but you could ask around! Cheers!! SU

This was a shock to me. Damn. 150000/- was way out of my budget. The truth is, people like me stay broke most of the time, and not to mention that I quit my high paying "pie in the sky job" last year. I still had regards for Spiti United till I figured that these people were nothing more than masquerading travel agents claiming to be conservationists. This was my biggest disappointment. Later, after more research, I understood that the real face of Spiti United was actually a company called "Foliage Outdoors", which was a glorified travel agent company who organised “adventures” for the rich braggers. Not only do they have the audacity to charge you irrationally, their facebook posts (at least, this particular one) was disturbing & disgusting at the same time. 

This was from the actual post:

"SNOW LEOPARDs this name has been relevant for the aam admi (referred to “common man” in Hindi) only since last few years. Ladakh had a few amazing years of consistent sightings for not only the authorities and researchers but also for wildlife enthusiast and photographers. Many people are actually thinking of going on snow leopard expeditions, which are planned in advance with all security measures and catered with high standards of logistical support. For example a wildlife documentary shoot or heavily funded wildlife research expedition. Spiti united has just a year ago designed a unique product based on community tourism, in Spiti valley, Himalachal Pradesh. Nature lovers have started coming in good numbers to kibber village... Everything that we are capturing now is first of its kind footage in the world. Snow leopards are almost impossible to photograph unless and until you have a dedicated tracking team which is constantly monitoring their movements and behaviour. I don’t think that any snow leopard researcher or biologist should call themselves that unless and until they actually witness what they have seen on camera traps. Most of the research done in India has been about getting the cats on video/still camera traps. They only estimate the numbers to monitor the growth in numbers. It has never been about behavioral studies. Now the funny scientist have started putting big ass collar on cats to monitor them. We are extremely concerned about it. We can't comprehend this concept as being “for the greater good”, when we are risking so much for the snowy cats . The rise of wildlife photography since the last decade has helped in bringing revenue to the communities blessed with wonderful wildlife, It’s a circle you see – Tanzin Dorje till last year didn't have any stable income other than the daily wages he earned as a laborer. Spiti Youth is already flocking to grab this opportunity. We only hope that she decides to stay as real in the future as she has been till now and we keep getting some super cool behavioral data on snow leopards for the entire world to see”

Not only did they mispronounce "behavioural".. They were backed by a much larger corporate called "Infinite journeys". This was something bigger than I thought. You can read more about these scamsters here and here.

Here’s a tip, when you hear people yell stuff like "We organise expeditions with months of preparations and we are the ONLY ones who do it” or when they use a non collective term such as “I” am narcissist , for e.g "They only estimate the numbers to monitor the growth in numbers. It has never been about behavioral studies. Now the funny scientist have started putting big ass collar on cats to monitor them. We are extremely concerned about it. We can't comprehend this concept as being “for the greater good” .. 

Most likely ITS A SCAM !

To me, these people are like Harley Davidson’s of the motorcycle world. Targeting the ignorant and Rich. I did not see a single usage of the word “Endangered” or “Conservation” .. And ultimately, this is just another bunch of people who have their heads deeply up their asses with No Humility, or Respect to whatever they claim to be conserving.. 

In Mongolia, Its quite the opposite .. “Everybody in Mongolia knows that snow leopard is endangered. I know almost everybody who lives in snow leopard habitat, seems they know me, so it is quite easy to work together on conservation of beautiful, quiet, kind animal like snow leopard” - Bariushaa Munkhtsog ... See the difference ?


Ill let you judge, & Please help ! Save the snow leopards ! Because for every One million One hundred eighty-seven thousand five hundred of us, there is only 1 snow leopard. 

And they have a very unique tail in mouth disease.. 

                                               

                                 




After living on freebees for 2 days, I finally spent some precious paper buying petrol. The lady who sold me the gas was not the typical person you'll find at a fuel station. I had to walk thro' heaps of snow left unploughed to get to the shop. She told me that this village was called "Chango" and I was in the Chango valley. Then, She went on talking about the apples that grow here & other valleys near by where the "Golden" apple grows..The Ribba and Namgiya valleys..and so on.. She then handed me some dried apples. They were yellow in colour .. and she was not kidding about the golden apples.

The only golden apple I know is The golden apple that appears folk legends or fairy tales.

After fuel, I had a small bite and was on my way. The road ahead was deserted, gnarly and absolutely no one around. Not even the Army. Sumdo is the last place till you'll find Army activity. After Sumdo all the way to Tabo, there was no living person that I could spot. It was inhospitably cold and impossible to ride. I was lurking slowly at speeds below 25kmph. I took lots of breaks, played around with the GoPro I was carrying, and little later learnt some lessons about how batteries and cold weather dont get along well. The temperature gauge was varying between 5 Deg C and minus 5 Deg 5 through the day.It was not fun being open to the elements. I had to pile up on the layers of clothes to ensure I didn't die. When I reached Tabo for lunch, I was wearing 4 layers jackets, 3 layers of trousers and 2 layers of gloves.

Tabo was empty. The few monks who were in town looked at me with disbelief that I had come there...and for a holiday. They were very curious to know when the bus route from Peo will been open for larger vehicles. They were also hell bent on not letting me go further to Kaza as the road was yet to be cleared and as of now "Closed" .. I had a good laugh talking to a couple of them, and explained how my bike can actually "make it", even though the road was closed. Later that day, after some more conversations, I got going and to my own surprise, I realised that the so called road that was NOT open looks like this...

The road blocks were everywhere .. You just ride past time

She was the only person I saw, No kidding..


Believe it or not, I rode through this rock pile, 1 inch at a time.. 

Tipping point
I rode through treacherous rocks, shooting stones, slush, black ice and heaps of uncleared snow. I Dropped the bike a bunch of times. After about an hour and a half, I had travelled 7 kms. I was tired, wet, cold and annoyed, Mostly because anything and everything lead to the state of breathlessness, Even resting... This is not what I signed out for. The hardest thing was to entertain myself to keep going as the conditions around were neither motivating nor inspiring...Except, what I saw..What I saw and continued to see was a treasure we have in India. Deep down inside, I was happy that I had made it back to Spiti. The tipping point was when I reached this particular stretch, when a huge boulder the size of my helmet rolled down hit my front wheel. I stopped right there and looked back. Till that moment, the scariest thing that ever happened to me in life was watching the movie "Ring" late at night and taking a stroll back home. This easily beat that by a huge margin and I didn't make it to kaza that day.

Empty houses everywhere !


More terrible terrain on my way back

I took a prudent decision to go back to Tabo, enduring the same things I had just waded thro'. To add to the horror, there were more rocks on the roads on my way back. However, I ran into a bunch of locals a little ahead, who were clearing the rock piles for bigger vehicles to cross. They were waiting for the cavalry to arrive with appropriate equipment and said that I could try the road to Kaza again tomorrow . Delighted, I rode back to have a mini education session on how concrete houses are terrible in extreme cold, and unpacked and packed 2 times before finding a mud house to stay that night. Well, I was back to living on freebees .. I cant complain ...